The designated corridor of the Seal River is 260 km long and extends from the junction of the North and South Seal Rivers, at Shethanei Lake, to Hudson Bay. The river is located in the wilderness of northern Manitoba, 1000 km by air charter from Winnipeg.
The Seal begins its course at Shethanei Lake, ringed by magnificent sand-crowned eskers, then passes through stands of black spruce and develops into a series of rapids and gorges. Beyond the boreal forest, the river flows into a transitional subarctic environment known as the “Land of Little Sticks,” and then through arctic tundra and boulder fields until it reaches the estuary on Hudson Bay.
The Seal remains the largest undammed river in northern Manitoba and exhibits numerous glacial features such as 300 metre-wide eskers extending up to several hundred kilometres in a north-south direction. The river corridor provides habitat for approximately 30 plant species rarely found in Manitoba, as well as for wildlife such as moose, black bear, wolf, fox, snowshoe hare, ptarmigan, Canada goose, ducks, otter and beaver. Particularly notable species found in the area include wolverine, golden and bald eagle, osprey, beluga whale, harbour seal, barren-ground caribou and polar bear.
The Seal River area has long played an important role in Indigenous hunting, fishing and travelling. It flows through traditional lands of the Dene, and coastal areas historically visited by Inuit families.The Seal River area played an important role in aboriginal hunting, fishing and travelling. There are a large number of prehistoric artefacts and archaeological sites in the area, with finds dating from the Paleo-Indian peoples of 7,000 years ago, to the Taltheili who existed from 1 C.E. to 1700 C.E. The river is also closely associated with the European explorer Samuel Hearne of the Hudson’s Bay Company who left Prince of Wales Fort, near Churchill, in February 1771 and followed the Seal River inland on foot to Shethanei Lake. Today, the Sayisi Dene, descendants of the people who assisted Samuel Hearne on his historic overland trek to the Arctic coast, continue their ancestors’ traditional use of and reverence for this river.
The Seal River offers an outstanding wilderness white-water canoeing and kayaking experience that only a small number of adventurers undertake each year. The challenging river trip includes cold-water lake paddling, long sets of rapids and a boulder-strewn tidal estuary. Hikes to the tops of eskers reward visitors with a 360-degree vista of a totally natural environment.
The river’s estuary on Hudson Bay is the calving and feeding grounds for 3,000 beluga whales, one of the largest concentrations in the world. The river is named for the harbour seals (normally marine creatures) that are found up to 200 km upstream from Hudson Bay.
The Seal River was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1992 based on its natural heritage values and recreational opportunities.
The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river.
Seal River Plaque Text
The Seal River - Of the four major rivers in northern Manitoba, the 260 KM Seal River alone remains completely undeveloped, wild and rugged. Arctic tundra and boreal forest combine here in the “Land of Little Sticks”, a natural habitat for rare plants and wolverines, eagles and polar bears. Dramatic eskers, over 100 km long, provide easy passage from the Barrens for thousands of Kaminuriak caribou, and offer hikers unparalleled vista of this pristine and powerful waterway. The river gets its name from “marine” harbour seals that live here, often 200 km upstream of the river estuary at Hudson Bay, an esuary that attracts over 3,000 beluga whales to feed and calve each spring. Long before Samuel Hearne passed this way in 1771, the Seal was a traditional hunting and fishing ground of early Dene peoples – a tradition continued now by the Tadoule Lake Sayisi Dene, working with Manitoba, as today’s stewards of the nationally-significant resources of the Seal River.